Ollie unlocks the front door and picks up the orange-bagged newspaper. When he was a boy, the local paper cost ten cents. Now it’s seventy-five. In spite of the increased price point, it’s been an essential piece of his morning ritual for decades. He finds solace in the newsprint, gossip for the McDonald’s crew, and a reason to celebrate surviving this long.
He gulps. The sound of the casino chips inside the box echoes in his head.
He removes the plastic bag and sets the still-folded newspaper next to his cup of coffee on the kitchen table. Greg rushes past him and grabs the newspaper.
Waving him past, Ollie bursts out with a fake grin and a curtsy.
The bathroom light flicks on. The door slams. The fan rattles three times then sounds normal. Ollie pities the toilet seat.
Ollie eases himself into his chair across from Toby, who remains focused on his Lucky Charms (no milk; it softens the marshmallows –– and nobody likes soggy marshmallows). Ollie raps his fingers against the table. He stares at the unopened can of beans. He spins the decoder ring and wishes The Asshole hadn’t taken his newspaper. He wishes that he really had gone fishing.
Toby’s spoon clinks against the side of his bowl. Ollie’s hand trembles. He clasps it with the other.
–– Get all your homework done?
Toby shrugs. Nods. Takes a gulp of milk.
–– Good, good.
Ollie whistles a tune. He glares at the spot where his newspaper should have been. He takes a hard glare at his array of pills. Childproof lids are no match for him. Most of the time.
–– Quick. What’s this tune?
He whistles four bars of a heroic theme.
–– Mysterious Dr. Satan.
–– OK, genius… who played The Copperhead in Mysterious Dr. Satan?
Toby takes a bite of cereal.
–– Robert Wilcox.
Ollie nods in proud approval. Toby chomps down on a marshmallow four-leaf clover.
–– Who was Wilcox’s stunt double?
–– David Sharpe.
Ollie sits back, mocked-stunned. He flicks open his pocketknife. His hand trembles again. He stops.
–– Gonna stump you someday.
Toby shrugs. He watches his grandfather’s hand.
Olivia backs into the dining room, holding a plate of bacon on top of a greasy paper towel. It’s still sizzling. Ollie sticks his knife into the can of beans and twists. Can’t do it. Damn shakes.
–– Fighting monkeys in your dreams again?
–– Damn things.
–– Who won?
–– I’ll beat ‘em eventually.
Olivia grabs the can of beans from Ollie and takes it with her to the kitchen. The rustling jangle of a drawer being searched. A slam.
She sets the opened can in front of him. She wipes the bean juice that escaped onto her hand on his shoulder.
–– Can’t believe you still eat that stuff Dad. Why don’t you let me make you something?
–– Like what?
She points to the plate of bacon in front of him. Ollie sticks his spoon in the can.
–– Cholesterol. Plus, they’re in a can. They’re fine. And Toby’s a growing boy. He needs all the pig he can get.
–– Hasn’t hurt me in yet. And he needs pig.
Toby looks at both of them. With a chomp on a perfectly crunchy marshmallow, he refocuses on the Lucky Charms.
Since the mid-1970s, Ollie has stockpiled cans of beans and other (allegedly) non-perishable foodstuffs. Preparation for the impending nuclear holocaust that Castro and Khrushchev were going to unleash –– even though Khrushchev had been dead for five years.
When his wife kicked him out, Ollie tasked Olivia with protecting the secret stockpile of gastro-intestinal dynamite (gave her the storage key and everything) –– their little secret. When his wife died, she willed the house to Olivia with one stipulation: Ollie does not step foot through the front door. “He ruined my life, he’ll sure as shit ruin yours’” (harsh language for a will, but it’s there –– paragraph four, subsection six). When Ollie moved back in, Olivia gave him the storage room key. He’s been eating a can every day for the three years that he’s called the laundry room home.
As of yet, there hasn’t been a nuclear holocaust, a ruining of lives, or screaming bouts of food poisoning and uncontrollable diarrhea.
Olivia kisses Toby on the forehead. Ollie gulps down a spoonful of beans.
–– Take your medicine honey.
Toby looks at Ollie.
Ollie stops mid-schlurp and stares at the pills in front of him. Behind a mop of hair in his eyes, Toby squints. Ollie squints. Leone-style. Fonda and Bronson at Sweetwater. If Fonda and Bronson loved each other with every fiber of their being and had heart pills and anti-seizure meds instead of six-shooters and Claudia Cardinale.
Ollie and Toby grab their pile of pills and gulp them down. Toby finishes his off with a glass of milk, Ollie with juice from his can of beans. Olivia stifles a gag reflex.
–– Could’ve used coffee.
Ollie licks his lips.
–– Toby, get your stuff for school. I’ll drive you this morning.
–– No bus?
–– No bus.
Toby gets up from the table and pushes in his chair. Ollie pats him on the shoulder as he mopes past.
–– Big meeting?
Olivia takes a sip of coffee.
–– It’ll be great for the business. How was fishing?
Ollie forces a smile as he lets the coffee burn the inside of his throat. His face turns red.
–– Fine. Fine. Margie caught the biggest one, as always.
–– She’s something. How’s she holding up?
–– Who? Margie.
–– Margie. About as well as could be expected.
He sets the cup down. Olivia lets out a sigh.
–– Dad, I hate to ask, but could you lend me about $500? Bills are coming down hard, and once this client comes through, I’ll pay you ––
Greg rushes in, plunking down his cup of coffee next to Olivia. He kisses her on the cheek. Sets the newspaper down. It’s an unfolded mess.
–– Sorry babe. Gotta run. See ya tonight.
Greg grabs a handful of bacon.
–– Oh, ok. Have a …
The door slams shut. The car ignition turns over.
Ollie extricates himself from his half-hidden contempt long enough to look down at the newspaper. A headline catches his eye:
–– Dad? I’m really sorry to ask. I know you’re doing so much for Toby already…
Ollie stares at the newspaper. He twists the Sentinel Sentry Decoder ring.
–– Sure, sure honey. End of the week OK?
Tin cans can’t stop me.
To be continued.